Section 354 IPC – Definition
Whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any woman, intending to outrage or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby outrage her modesty, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
Section 354 IPC – Legal History and Ingredients
As we all know, the Indian Penal Code being a colonial law did not include stalking as a criminal offense. Protection to women was only given under Section 354 of the IPC for sexual harassment and Section 509 for insulting the modesty of a woman.
Under the provision, whoever assaults a woman with the knowledge that it would outrage her modesty shall be punished under the law. The ultimate test to determine if a women’s modesty has been outraged can be met if the following ingredients are met. Firstly, the assault must be on a woman. Secondly, the accused must have used some criminal force and thirdly, that must have outraged her modesty.
Section 354A – Sexual harassment and punishment for sexual harassment
A man is said to have committed sexual harassment when he does any of the following acts –
- Physical contact and advances which involves explicit sexual gestures; or
- Demand or request for any sexual favor; or
- Display of pornography against the will of a woman; or
- Creating sexually created remarks.
Punishment for the first three offenses is imprisonment up to three years, or with fine, or both, whereas punishment for the last offense is imprisonment up to one year, or with fine, or both.
Section 354A is cognizable, bailable and can be tried by any magistrate.
Section 354B – Assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe
This Section protects women against men who assaults or uses criminal force towards any woman or abets such act with an intention to disrobe or compel her to be naked.
Punishment for the same shall be imprisonment of not less than three years and which may extend up to seven years. He shall also be liable to pay a fine.
Section 354B is cognizable, non-bailable, and can be tried by any Magistrate.
Section 354C – Voyeurism
This section is closely related to the privacy of a woman. Voyeurism is an act committed when any man watches or captures the image of a woman engaged in some private act.
In such a situation, the perpetrator shall be imprisoned for a minimum period of one year which may extend up to three years, and shall also be liable to fine.
The section punishes a man who intentionally watches or captures a picture of a woman doing a private act. However, if a woman consents to capture her image or allows for any act, but not consenting to disseminate the same to any third person, and if that person does so, then he shall be liable under the Act.
Section 354C is cognizable, bailable at first conviction, cognizable and non-bailable at the second conviction.
Section 354D – Stalking
The term stalking refers to a form of harassment which comprises of the repeated and persistent intention of harming or causing fear to the person who is being followed. This can be done in various forms, be it physical or virtual, i.e., online. However, under the provisions of law, i.e., Section 354, only a man can stalk a woman. Therefore, it is not a gender-neutral offense, and only a woman can seek justice from it.
In 2013, the Criminal Law Amendment Act was introduced on the recommendation of the Justice Verma Committee due to a sharp increase in the number of offenses against women. Stalking was recognized as an offense under Section 354D. The Amendment Act of 2013 also introduced changes relating to offenses of Sexual harassment, voyeurism, trafficking, etc.
Section 354D clearly states that any act of an individual despite the interest of a woman if found continuously stalking him then he shall be liable for Stalking under Section 354D.
Section 354 is a provision that clearly safeguards women from the criminal actions of a man. In other words, it protects the “modesty” of a woman. As outlined, this provision has four safeguards for women, namely, Sexual harassment, Assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe, Voyeurism, and Stalking.
Some argue that this section is pro-woman, and therefore, in the Machindra Chate case, the Bombay High Court had said: “Even if you keep your hand on the shoulder of a woman, it is for the lady to comment on the nature of the touch, whether it was friendly, brotherly or fatherly.” The problem lies in the fact that the term “outrage of modesty” is not defined anywhere in the Indian Penal Code or any other Act. Therefore it is for the courts to decide on a case to case basis since it is a matter of interpretation.
The recent #Metoo movement which spread across India and included a big list of celebrities was a time when Section 354 was put to light extensively.